• The San Juan Daily Star

Ex-Marine sharpshooter kills 4 and fires at deputies in Florida, sheriff says

The authorities responded to a shooting near Lakeland, Fla., on Sunday. The gunman surrendered after he was shot at least once during two gunfights with deputies.

By Neil Vigdor and Alyssa Lukpat

A former Marine sharpshooter who served in Afghanistan fatally shot four people, including an infant, in two homes near Lakeland, Florida, early Sunday and exchanged gunfire with sheriff’s deputies before he was taken into custody, officials said.

The gunman, who also shot and wounded an 11-year-old girl, surrendered after he was shot at least once during two gunfights with deputies in which dozens, if not hundreds, of rounds were fired in a residential neighborhood in Polk County, Sheriff Grady Judd told reporters.

Three of the people who were killed — a 40-year-old man, a 33-year-old woman and a 3-month-old boy whom the woman was cradling in her arms — were found inside one home, the authorities said. A fourth victim, the infant’s 62-year-old grandmother, was found shot to death in another home on the same property.

Investigators could not immediately say what prompted the rampage, which they said began around 4:30 a.m. Judd said that so far, his department’s investigation had found “zero connection” between the gunman and the victims.

They identified the gunman as Bryan Riley, 33, of Brandon, Florida, which is east of Tampa and more than 20 miles from where the attack occurred. He was taken into custody by officers from several law enforcement agencies in tactical gear as a helicopter hovered above the scene. No law enforcement officers were injured.

Riley was charged with four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of attempted first-degree murder of law enforcement officers and a separate count of attempted murder, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. He was also charged with one count of arson and two counts of armed burglary with assault and shooting into a building.

He will have a court appearance Monday morning, the sheriff’s office said.

Judd said at a news conference that Riley was experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and was wearing body armor and camouflage when he barricaded himself inside one of the homes. There was no known connection between the victims and Riley, who works in “executive protection as a bodyguard and to provide security,” Judd said.

“But he says at one point to our detectives, ‘They begged for their lives, and I killed them anyway,’ ” Judd said Sunday afternoon. “He’s evil in the flesh. He was a rabid animal.”

Judd identified the man who was killed as Justice Gleason, of Lakeland, but did not release the names of the others who were fatally shot. A family dog, which was named for a Polk County sheriff’s dog that was fatally shot along with its handler in the line of duty, was also killed, Judd said.

While Riley was being treated at a hospital emergency room, he tried to grab a police officer’s gun and had to be medicated and restrained, Judd said.

“He was ready for battle,” Judd said earlier Sunday of Riley, who he said had told deputies that he was a “survivalist” and had taken methamphetamine.

The 11-year-old girl was flown to Tampa, about 35 miles southwest of Lakeland, and was expected to recover after being shot seven times, Judd said. Additional information on her condition was not immediately available.

“She looks our deputies in the eye and said, ‘There’s three more dead people in the house,’ ” Judd said.

It was not immediately clear whether Riley had a lawyer. A person who answered the phone at a number listed for him hung up without commenting Sunday.

Judd said the first indication that something was amiss came around 7:30 p.m. Saturday, when a woman called authorities to say that a suspicious man was sitting in a parked vehicle in the neighborhood.

She told them of a frightening encounter with the man, who she said had told her that “God sent me here to speak with one of your daughters.”

By the time a sheriff’s deputy arrived about six minutes later, the man was gone, Judd said.

About nine hours later, a sheriff’s lieutenant who was on another call 2 miles away heard two volleys of automatic gunfire, Judd said. When law enforcement officers arrived at the property, which has three homes, they found a truck on fire. They also found a path of glow sticks from the road up to the residence.

“We saw an individual totally outfitted in body armor and looked as if he was ready to engage us all in an active shooter situation,” Judd said.

The man retreated inside the home, and Judd said that officers could hear a woman scream and a baby whimper after more gunfire.

The sheriff’s lieutenant tried to enter the house through the front door, but it was barricaded, Judd said. When the lieutenant entered the house from the back, the gunman started shooting, and the lieutenant returned fire, Judd said, adding that three other deputies were “pinned down” during a standoff.

Judd said investigators found a stockpile of supplies in Riley’s truck, including a bleeding-control first-aid kit. Investigators found at least two firearms at the scene, he said.

“Who in the world would ever expect to have an active shooter in a neighborhood at 4:30 on a Sunday morning?” Judd said.

Before investigators could enter the home, he said, robots were sent in to check for explosives or other booby traps. He did not say whether investigators found any.

“This is a horrific incident,” Brian Haas, state attorney for Florida’s 10th Judicial Circuit, said at the news conference. “Our community and many families are hurting this morning.”

Judd said that Riley’s girlfriend was cooperating with investigators and that she had told them that he had become more erratic in the past week.

In addition to serving in Afghanistan, Riley had also deployed to Iraq during his four years in the Marines and three years as a reservist, Judd said. Riley had been honorably discharged, he said, and had “virtually no criminal history.”

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